Have you ever had an idea that you thought would be perfect to suggest to your boss? If you did, did you act on it and schedule the meeting to present your idea? Or did you hesitate and let the moment pass without saying anything?
Sometimes the thought of speaking up at work can be very scary. We imagine scenarios that are much worse than they turn out to be in reality. Why do we do it and how can we stop doing it? Here is the most important thing to remember to overcome your fear at work.
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What’s the secret?
They can’t kill you.
It’s really that simple. They can’t kill you.
Sometimes we need reassurance before going farther
Throughout the years I served as a school administrator, I’d have people come to me with one idea or another. Most of the time, these ideas needed approval from someone higher up the ladder. The person on the other side of the desk would ask my opinion but would be reluctant to take their idea farther because they were afraid it would get shot down.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I would ask.
The other person would look at me with a strange look on their face and ask, “What do you mean?”
I’d repeat the question. “What’s the worst that can happen if you ask the question or make the suggestion?”
Generally this question would be met with surprise because the other person truly had not given much thought to what might happen if they pursued their idea or asked their question. Their fear of the uncertain paralyzed them from not only further action, but from further thought.
“I don’t know,” was usually the answer I’d get after some prodding. “I’m scared to find out.”
“You know, they can’t kill you,” would be my response.
“They can’t kill you. They can tell you no. They can refuse to listen or act on an idea. But they can’t kill you, can they?”
It was obvious at this point that the realization that the authority figure higher up the ladder couldn’t really do any real damage to them was a foreign concept. We tend give too much weight to the thoughts and actions of others, while denigrating our own abilities.
And I’ve been guilty of this myself.
Why we’re sometimes afraid at work
It’s easy to play the scenarios in our head. You know the ones. The ones where we’re led down a long hall that grows longer with each step until we finally reach a set of double doors so tall we have to strain our neck to see the top. Then we’re led into a huge office where the boss sits on a throne.
Meanwhile, we feel like the Cowardly Lion meeting the Wizard of Oz, scared and unsure of ourselves. We can just hear the boss bellow, “That’s the dumbest idea or question I’ve ever heard!” while we stammer and look at the floor waiting to be thrown out or fired.
What are the real possibilities
The reality is never as bad as we imagine. In truth, there are only a few possible outcomes when we approach the boss:
1. We’ll be told no.
2. We’ll be told yes.
3. We’ll be told not now.
4. We’ll be told that it will be considered.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be told no, and then your idea will be implemented and someone else will take the credit. But that’s a whole other problem and if you’re in that situation, you probably already are aware of it. It’s also probably a sign that it’s time for a change.
So back to the situation at hand.
You probably noticed that none of the possible outcomes listed above included your death. That’s because THEY CAN’T KILL YOU.
They can tell you no. They might even laugh or snicker.- although that’s unlikely. But they can’t kill you.
This realization sets you free
Once I finally came to that realization, my whole outlook and attitude about speaking up changed. It was the moment of freedom in which the boss on the proverbial throne failed to exercise power over me.
Yes, he could make feel silly. So what? I’ve felt silly before, and so have you. But no one ever died from feeling silly. And you might be surprised by the reaction you get. Your idea might be just the solution to a problem. Your question might be something that needed to be answered for a lot of people. You might have the answer that the boss was seeking. You’ll never know if you let fear paralyze you.
So work up your courage. Ask the question. Make the suggestion. Put forth the idea. Have confidence in yourself, because the truth is plain.
They can’t kill you.
Have you ever been in a situation at work where you wanted to speak up but didn’t?
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